Boxing promoter Lou DiBella’s “Uncle Bert” has passed away. So too, has a “mentor” to Mark Taffet, HBO’s senior vice president in charge of pay per view, and “one of the few guys that always got it right,” according to journalist and broadcaster Larry Merchant.
“A unique, one-of-a-kind ringside character is gone, leaving a great legacy,” said an emotional Michael Buffer, the famous Hall of Fame-bound ring announcer known for igniting boxing crowds with his trademark phrase, “Lets Get Ready To Rumble.”
“Rest in peace, dear friend,” said Buffer. “You were loved and admired by so many.”
Boxing historian Bert Sugar, a man known for his trademark fedora, cigar and for wearing pants as colorful as his personality, died at the age of 74 on Sunday of cardiac arrest at Northern Westchester Hospital, in New York with his wife, Suzanne, and daughter, Jennifer Frawley, by his side. Sugar also had been battling lung cancer.
“Bert was a great asset to boxing, and he was a very knowledgeable guy,” said Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank Inc. “Obviously, we at Top Rank will miss him, as will everybody else who is involved in boxing.”
Both Arum and DiBella say that Sugar’s passing is especially unsettling because it comes in the wake of others, such as last month’s passing of Angelo Dundee, former fun-loving trainer Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.
“The Bert Sugars and the Angelo Dundees, you don’t replace them. That saddens my heart, because the business has become less colorful and less fun,” said DiBella, who first met Sugar as an HBO executive in 1989.
“Bert Sugar was a brilliant guy. I mean, he was erudite, he was well read. He knew everything about so many things. Bert managed to make a living by simply being Bert. He was a celebrity by being Bert. That hat, that trademark cigar, those crazy pants. There wasn’t a bar stool that he didn’t like, and there wasn’t a guy that didn’t like sitting next to him. I’m proud to say that I sat next to him at many a bar stool.”
Sugar was inducted in 2005 into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, whose Web site attributes more than 80 books to his credit, including “The 100 Greatest Boxers Of All Time.” Sugar has also appeared in a handful of films, including “The Great White Hype,” starring Samuel Jackson.”
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1936, Sugar attened Wilson High and played football at the University of Maryland as a placekicker. Sugar went to law school at Michigan. He passed the bar in his hometown and worked in advertising in New York City before he got into writing in the 1970s.
“Around ringside, it’s not going to be the same with Bert not there,” Jack Hirsch, president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, told The Associated Press. “Bert was obviously a showman in the way he did things outwardly, very flamboyant, but in quiet moments I found him to be an extremely modest individual.”
Not so with DiBella, who shared with Sugar not only a raucous sense of humor but also many a beer, as well as the love of baseball.
“We had conversations about all sorts of things. We shared a mutual love of the sports of boxing and baseball, and horse racing as well. We talked about all of that stuff. There was only one Bert Sugar, and there will only ever be one Bert Sugar. He’s an irreplaceabe character, and I’ll miss him greatly,” said DiBella.
“I’ll miss that hat, I’ll miss that booming voice, I’ll miss the laugh, I’ll miss the cigar, I’ll miss him chomping on that cigar even when he wasn’t smoking. Bert was an American original, and the sport is less today than it was yesterday. I called him Uncle Bert, and I’m going to miss him a lot.”
So too will Michael Rosenthal, Editor of THE RING Magazine.
“I’m deeply saddened to hear the news of Bert’s passing. I personally lost a friend and role model. One of my favorite things to do in life was to have a drink with Bert Sugar and just listen to stories, about both boxing and life,” said Rosenthal.
“And the sport has lost a great ambassador. Bert’s knowledge of boxing history was unrivaled and his way with words will remain an inspiration. I know it’s a cliché but there truly will never be another one like him. I miss him already.”
The same can be said for Taffet, who still has a pennant from the 1969 New York Mets’ world championship over The Baltimore Orioles.
“You know one of those felt pennants? It’s one of the centerpieces of my sports memorabilia collection and it’s framed and hanging on a wall in my house. He knew that I was a great fan of the New York Mets, and he has a world-reknown sports memorabilia collection,” said Taffet.
“So over the years, he sent me numerous memorabilia pieces. I smile every time that I think about the guy, but I will also probably also cry, now, every time that I think about the guy.”
Beyond that, Sugar has been a major contributor to HBO, beginning in with Evander Holyfield’s triumph over George Foreman in April of 1991, which represented the start of the network’s TVKO series that served as the predecessor to its pay per view.
“Bert was a dear friend, a colleague and a mentor. He was a larger-than-life figure who loved boxing immensely. He made an indelible impact at our big fights, that instantly-recognizable voice and laugh bellowing throughout the press room as he did scores of radio interviews during fight week,” said Taffet.
“But in addition to his persona and sense of humor, Bert was an extremely talented writer and historian whose love of storytelling and command of sports trivia were legendary. He was a welcome and regular editorial contributor to HBO.com, sharing his perspective on boxing and analysis of upcoming match-ups while always fulfilling his self-imposed duty to give fans the ‘insider’ perspective.”
Merchant said Sugar’s assessments were always among the most historically and visually accurate.
“Bert Sugar was one of the last true historians of the sport, and every time I would hear him recalling classic fights in person or on ESPN or anywhere, I was always struck by the feeling that he always got it right, and that it was not only right about the fight itself,” said Merchant.
“But also, the atmospherics and what was going on at that time in history. He had a perspective about it and a humor about it that made him fun to be around. So he will be missed as a man about boxing, and missed as a friend, and missed for the warehouse of knowledge that he had about the game.”
During HBO’s December 10 broadcast of Lamont Peterson’s split-decision victory over Amir Khan in the Nation’s Capitol, Merchant had hoped to pay homage to Sugar as a native Washingtonian icon with a report that was never used.
“I wanted to put up a graphic, and we may have prepared it but never got to use it, of great boxing figures from Washington, D.C., which used to be a real boxing place. I wanted to put up boxing figures from that area because I wanted Bert to be included,” said Merchant, who lamented the recent deaths other boxing dignitaries such as Dundee.
“You have Budd Schulberg, George Kimball, Nick Charles, so there have been a lot of casualties. Guys who, as I say, have been knocked down and who aren’t going to get up again. Whenever I saw Bert doing one of those shows or themes about particular fights, I always felt good because I knew that he would actually convey not just what happened, but something about the fighters, the time and the place. That can’t be reproduced.”
What will Frawley most remember about her father?
“Just his intelligence and his wit and his sense of humor,” Frawley told The Associated Press. “He was always worried about people. He was always helping people. He was really a brilliant man.”
Frawley said arrangements for a memorial service are still pending and anyone wishing to honor Sugar should make a donation to the boxing hall.
“If you’re involved with boxing, if you’re a huge fan or just a casual observer of the sport, today you lost a great friend with the passing of Bert Randolph Sugar. He was a legend of boxing journalism. His writings were prolific, thoughtful, passionate, witty and considerate,” said Buffer.
“He was almost always smiling when covering the fights because he loved being there holding court and answering questions from all, even his brother pundits, who acknowledged his royalty by seeking an opinion. We will all miss that always smiling face beneath the ever present fedora worn with his navy blazer and endless supply of preppy print slacks.”
Photos / Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org